Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Hearty Thank You to All Our Customers

The first year for any business is crucial, and though we weren't up and running nearly as quickly as we hoped this year (we were shooting for mid-January but didn't open until March) we've done well enough in our first year to begin 2009 with guarded optimism.  When I started the business that became Longleaf I had much more passion than business experience (not to mention capital).  I've learned a lot and still have much to learn.  But I wouldn't have the chance to continue learning if it weren't for our customers.  I don't know how many times I've told people how exceptional our customers are.  Anyone who has worked any type of retail job has plenty of horror stories about spoiled, childish customers.  We haven't had a single Longleaf customer who was anything less than a joy to work with.  Ours are grateful, generous, and patient, and appreciate what we do.  We're very, very lucky to have them.

We hope to offer more in the next year for both our local customers and those spread across the country.  You'd be justified in doubting me, but I am working on the website daily.  It has been tweaked (changes are hidden for now) and you'll soon be able to purchase parts directly from our website.  We also have plans to move to a more accessible retail location and expand in order to serve a wider swath of local customers.  Downtown Wilmington has a pedestrian and bicycle friendly infrastructure which makes it an ideal locale to continue the Bicycle Renaissance.  This is where we live, and we'll do everything we can to support a culture of safe and humane transportation in our neighborhood.

I'm taking Friday and Saturday off a short vacation.  As usual, we're closed Sunday.  Normal business will resume on the 5th.

Happy New Year,
Anthony

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holiday Hours

On Wednesday at 2pm the shop will close for the Christmas and New Year's holiday. From that time until January 5 the shop will be open by appointment only. We will be taking orders via phone and e-mail during this time, but I'm not promising to be here at any given time. Think of it as a semi-holiday. I have a mountain of paper and website work to tackle, so I'll be here often. Normal business operations will resume January 5th.

Please don't hesitate to place an order during this time. I will be building wheels and shipping orders, but I'm trying to minimize interruptions and not be tied to the shop for a few days.

Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year

Anthony

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Tip for the Office

I'm going to pass on a helpful tip before offering more excuses why I don't post on the blog more often.  Laser printer toner cartridges are expensive, and printers will often prematurely declare that the toner cartridges are low or empty.  Keep using the allegedly spent cartridge as long as you print quality is acceptable.  When the quality starts to flag pull the cartridge out and--while holding it over a trash can in case of accident--smack it around.  Give it a good throttling.  Reinsert into printer.  I have milked an extra 100 pages and counting out of my present cartridge with this method.

Insert all the usual excuses about never blogging because of being busy and doing it all myself here.  There are many things I'd like/need to accomplish that get lost in the constant shuffle of wheelbuilds, e-mails, and repairs, blogging is often one of them.  I did get 99% caught up on my bookeeping this week, which is a great relief.  I will likely need some help in the shop very soon.  Fortunately I have met a couple of good people that I can work with should the need (and more importantly the ability to pay them) arise.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wheels, wheels, wheels

I'm barely treading water with wheelbuild orders these days.  My backlog has been hovering at twenty wheels for some time now, and building all those wheels while taking care of local customers' various needs is difficult.  I've started to tell prospective customers that the backlog is 6-9 business days. Previously I was able to turn orders around within a week, but that isn't realistic right now.  I hope the orders will keep coming in with the longer wait time, and I guess if they don't the wait will drop back down, but I can't keep up the schedule I've been on for the last few weeks.  Of course, I'm very grateful to have this "problem" and am mindful that there are many people who are struggling to find work.  

Thursday, October 16, 2008

More Xtracycle Praise, and a Plea

Our Xtracycle'd bike has been in storage for most of the time since we moved to Wilmington. Recently I pulled it out and put the FreeRadical on a bike frame that fit me better and since then we've been using it everyday.  When you weigh cost, cargo capacity, availabilty, and performance I don't think any cargobike can beat an Xtracycle.  There are cargobikes that can carry more, but they're considerably more expensive and less nimble.  With a couple of accesories the Xtracycle FreeRadical allows you to carry an amazing amount of cargo while retaining most of the handling manners of a regular bike.  We have been using it a lot lately, and have rigged it up to be a family wagon.  Silas rides up front in the Bobike Mini, I "drive," and Lucy rides on the Snapdeck.  

Those of us who use our bikes as transportation are pretty used the "How do you get groceries? How do you ____?" questions.  On a regular bike with some modest cargo provisions getting groceries for a single person, or even two people can be done, not always easily.  The Xtracycle makes it easy, even for a family or four or five.  The Xtracycle pushes the range and use of the bicycle to point that it makes living without a car a viable option for a lot of people because it removes what for many people is the last hurdle to using their bicycle for an overwhemlming majority of their transport needs.  Most people don't regularly carry more cargo than they can carry on the Xtracycle.  And that includes the number of children in the average family. Carrying two children is very, very doable on the Xtracycle.  I do so regularly with Silas and Zoe (who stays with us three days a week while here mother goes to work). 

My experience is that people in the US who use their bicycles as transportation start out with one or a handful of bike trips.  They might commute to work first and use the bike for nearby errands.  Then the expand their range.  They they might add some cargo capacity.  Many, like me, relocate their residence so that they aren't in a suburban environment where zoning produces a great divide between residential areas and commercial/service destinations.  Sometimes a tipping point is reached and the bike is, except in very rare instances, their mode of transport.  The Xtracycle is a great help in getting people from "I can use my bike for some trips" to "I can use my bike for almost everything."

Oh--the plea.  Almost forgot.  If any readers would like a FreeRadical, Surly Big Dummy, or Xtracycle Radish, please let me know.  We would very much like to be a full fledged Xtracycle dealer (we can presently order FreeRadicals and limited accesories from QBP), but Xtracycle has changed their distribution rules this year, and to have full dealer status a shop has to meet an opening order minimum.  This is kinda hard for a small shop in a smallish town in an obscure location that doesn't depend on foot traffic for business.  Because of our present location and business structure we can't just buy a bunch of these, put them on the floor, and be confident they'll sell.  So I need to pre-sell some some Xtracycle stuff to be in the position to place the opening order.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Community Xtracycle Available at the Shop

I now have an demo Xtracycle at the shop that anyone can borrow if they need to do an errand that requires more cargo capactiy than a regular bike.  If you don't know, Xtracycle is a company that makes a kit which turns a normal bike into a longtail cargo bike with very large saddlebags and a platform.  They have a couple of smart accesories for carrying long objects, other people, and even other bikes.

The long wheelbase makes carrying heavy loads much easier and makes the handling much better than a normal bike when loaded.  Basically it allows you to carry things you used to think you couldn't carry on a bike.  For instance, I take the boxes from the shop to my house to be recycled since we don't have recycling service at our building.  Here's how I did it this Thursday.
I'd like to be clear that you don't have to be in the market for an Xtracyle to borrow ours. Anybody who needs to can use it for an errand.  We have the wideloader and longloader plug-ins if you need them, as well as a child's seat for younger children and footsies plus a "stoker" handlebar for older children or adults who need to ride along.

The Xtracycle we now have is built on a pretty big frame, and I'm afraid smaller riders will have a hard time fitting on it.  Sorry.  I hope to have a smaller frame built up soon. 


 

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bicycle Repair and Technical Links

This entry is a resource I made for people attending today's clinic and it might be helpful for others. I'll put this on the main site sometime and add to it when possible. There is nothing groundbreaking here, and most of these resources are well known to bike geeks, but they're a solid start for anyone who is starting out, and can be useful to experienced mechanics for some obscure questions.

General

Sheldon Brown's Website The late, great Sheldon was a walking bicycle encyclopedia. He put much of his knowledge on the web and never tired of helping others with their questions. His website contains various technical articles and a very helpful bicycle glossary are found on his site.
Park Tools Repair Page Instructions on how to perform repairs on specific components. Just point your cursor of the part of the bike you need to work on.
Diagnosing clicks, creaks, and other noises emanating from a bike is one of a mechanic's toughest, most time consuming jobs. This page will give you some pointers on how to hunt down and eliminate annoying noises.

Other Links and Web Tools

Sheldon Brown's Gear Calculator
Sheldon Brown's Internal Gear Calculator
Chainring and Cog Combos for turning a bike with vertical dropouts into a singlespeed or fixed wheel bike.
Tubular Tire Repair Few people ride tubulars anymore, and many think repairing them is next to impossible. Don't be intimidated, it can be done fairly easily.
Seatpost Stuck in Your Frame? Fifteen ways to get it out from Sheldon.
Tire Sizing can be confusing because of the lack of standardization, especially on older bikes (a "26 inch" tire can be five different sizes). Once again, Sheldon will help you sort it out.

Repair Workshop Today at 4pm

Sorry to announce this late, but I'll be holding a repair clinic today at 4pm as part of a DIY festival being held downtown at the Soapbox. The clinic is at the shop, and I don't know how many people to expect, honestly. The content will be tailored to whoever shows up, but we'll have to cover basics first if anyone is there who doesn't know them. Bring your bike if you can, because the clinic will be hands on when possible, and it will be better to learn on the type of brakes, shifters, headset, etc. that are on your bike.

If you can't make it today I plan on restarting the monthly clinics that we did at Trinity, so perhaps you can make the next one.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Think of the Women and Children

Transportation cycling in places without friendly roads or bicycle facilities tends to be an activity undertaken by solitary males. These men might have families, but they're at home or in the car while dad pedals. This is a normal and healthy reaction to the perception of danger.

But solitary males do not a bicycle (or any lasting) culture make. Only when cycling is a viable choice for everyone who can pedal or be carried on a bike do you have the necessary conditions for a bicycle culture.

Accordingly, those who are in positions to influence city planning and infrastructure should submit all proposed roads and bike lanes to this litmus test: would an average mother with a young child feel safe cycling along this road or in this bike lane? If cycling is viable for the most precious and vulnerable members of society, then it is viable for all. If not, the road or bike lane is a failure and needs modification.

It is no exaggeration to say that people are terrorized out of using their bicycles in the US. People are willing to sweat, people are willing to get from A to B in twenty five minutes rather than fifteen. They are not willing to be seriously injured or killed. Save me the stats about how relatively safe cycling is, even in the US. This response boils down to "get over it." Even if the danger of being hit by a car were not real (and it is very real if you cycle in traffic every day), the intense anxiety created by the perception of danger would be unacceptable. Some portion of alienation and anxiety is a normal part of the human condition. We're willing to accept such discomfort in matters existential and spiritual, but we shouldn't have a world in which anxiety and fear is attached to the mundane act of going down the street.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

City Bikes--Part One: Particularity

If you had asked me this time last year what the best all-around bike for the average person was I'd have answered without hesitation, "A randonneuring bike with 35-42mm tires, fenders, a front bag or medium sized basket, and generator powered lighting system." That's a fairly specific answer for a general question, but it is an answer arrived at after much experience on the roads. And to be fair to myself of a year ago, it might be the best general answer considering the typical infrastructure of a typical US city.

It certainly held true in Dallas, which like most young cities, suburbs and exurbs has developed under the assumption that automobile is and will always be the primary form of transportation for the vast majority of residents. Accordingly, the distances between home, work, and daily destinations in such places are longer than, well . . . any other living arrangement in human history, so anyone attempting to use a bike as primary transport will be forced to travel long distances on roads made for fast automobile traffic. These roads will have typically have infrequent and visible intersections with buildings set far back from the road, often separated from the road by a parking lot.

Getting around in such a world is best on a rando bike. The semi-upright position affords a good enough view of the road while still putting the rider in an efficient enough position to bring the large muscle into play while pedaling, which helps cover those long distances. Those who want to be even more efficient can easily change their position by dropping their bars and changing the fore/aft position of their saddle, which will slightly change the effective seatube angle.

When I moved to downtown Wilmington I noticed that my rando bike felt a little awkward. Downtown Wilmington's layout was built for pedestrians and horses. The blocks are very short, so intersections are numerous. Intersections aren't incredibly visible, because the buildings are pushed forward so that pedestrians can enter easily from the sidewalk. When there are parking spaces they are at the side of a building, not the front, but most business don't have any off-street parking at all. There are numerous cyclists and pedestrians. These features cause car traffic to be much, much slower. But because of the bad visibility and frequent intersections, driveways, etc. a cyclist needs to be constantly looking around. This makes a very upright position desirable. Luckily, my average trip is much shorter here, because almost everything I need to do is within four miles of my house so the only drawback to an upright position (less efficient position and less speed) is not an issue.

Add to all of this the fact that I daily carry a child in a stem-mounted seat (which works best on an upright bike) and my my primary bike has changed dramatically.  This realization was humbling and instructive. I found that I slowly made some changes to my bike, and then built a second bike that was very different from the one I'd used to get around Dallas. What I'd cobbled together was a city bike with a very upright position a type of bike I hadn't had previously held in high regard.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wilmington Cyclotouring Club (Provisional Name)

My friend Scott and I have been kicking around the idea of starting a bicycle club. The club would be based in downtown Wilmington and focus on reviving the tradition of cyclotouring and bike camping. Before the ascendancy of the car in the 1950's, bike camping and cyclotouring were popular leisure activities, particularly in Europe. The club is in its nascent stage, and we're gauging interest, though we're likely to get it rolling even if we only have a half dozen member to start out.

If you're in and need no further persuasion, click here to join the Google Group. But please read on to see what we're about. And if you're not yet sure, please read on and join the group if you're so inclined.

Here's the plan so far.

The club would encourage and promote transportation via bicycle to and from camping and other recreation destinations. Our activity is not a philosophical or ideological statement but a preference for riding our bikes as transport when possible and the wish to encourage and assist others who would like to do so. We suspect there are others who would like to substitute bicycle for automobile transport to and from popular outdoor leisure destinations, and intend to provide convivial assistance to those who are interested. Rides will begin and end in downtown Wilmington, rather than outside the city, so that people do not need to drive (or at least not drive far) to the start of each ride.

Extended tour rides would be minimal, since we understand most people's schedules make group multi-day trips nearly impossible to coordinate. However, we would serve as a resource to anyone undertaking such trips and encourage all members to offer hospitality to traveling cyclotourists by registering at the Warm Showers website.

Club rides would consist of the following. I've listed the rides in order of time commitment, which is inversely related to frequency with which the club would organize rides.

1--Day trips to the area beaches. These are easy (distance) rides from downtown, but often traverse roads inhospital to single cyclists and families. By riding as a group we would increase our visibility, safety, and the comfort of riders--especially those who are unaccustomed to riding on roads with fast automobile traffic. Group participation would also allow the group to rent a beachouse for the day at minimal cost to individual participants.

2--Overnight camping rides. These rides would go from downtown Wilmington to a camping destination 30-40 miles away, where the group would camp overnight and the return ride to Wilmington leaving late morning or early afternoon. Typically the ride would leave Saturday afternoon with a Sunday afternoon or evening return, since this would fit into the largest number of people's schedules. Club members who work on the weekend would be encouraged to find others with similar schedules and organize rides during weekdays.

3--Three to four day touring trips. These rides would be infrequent, perhaps twice yearly, and planned well in advance to make participation practical. The trip would consist of a three to four day (2-3 night) loop beginning and ending in Wilmington. Depending on the number and inclination of the participants, overnight accommodations would either be at campsites or motel/hotel rooms.

Please note that if you're interested in any of these rides, we want you in the club. Even if you're interested in meeting us at our destination, and don't plan to ride with us, we want you in the club. We won't ask how, or discriminate according to, your method of transport to our destinations (that will be one of the few club rules). We understand that because of various factors, some people don't feel comfortable biking in traffic. We regret this situation and welcome all.

I think that covers it--at least for now. The next step is a club website and all the electronic management it entails. I can cover the hosting fees, and I could build the website, but I'm very open to anyone else who would like to do so. I only ask that if you take on the task you take it on for at least a year. It is less hassle for me to build a simple website than hunt down a new webmaster/mistress every month.

If you don't yet want to join the group but are interested, comment below with any questions, e-mail me, or drop by the shop. But joining the google group is a no obligation thing, and the group will facilitate and exchange of ideas to get the club off the ground and get rides organized.

When the club does exist, there will be no dues, waivers, or membership forms. People who participate in our rides will be free to claim or disavow membership in the club. Claiming membership will merely commit members to riding in our rides when they're able and willing, and acting like decent human beings while on our rides. We welcome characters, wallflowers, eccentrics, and the opinionated. Boorish and impolite conduct will be the only impediments to participation. All other are welcome.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Quick-Hits

Review of Cardiff Saddle--Good so far. Keep in mind the shape is that of a racing saddle, if you don't have your bars at least two inches lower than your saddle it probably isn't right for you. I rode 42 miles on the saddle Sunday and felt good. I'm trying not to let the fact that the saddle is drop-dead gorgeous bias my review. I'll have something more extensive after I've put some more miles on mine.

Time: I don't have any of it. I get into work at 9 or 10 and go-go-go until 6 when I come home to eat and spend some time with my wife and son. When he's asleep I either go back up to shop or do computer work at home. I feel like I need to work fourteen hours a day everyday, which I can't do it without being a bad father and husband. Consequently, things like the website and the blog, which are very important, keep getting pushed into the background and neglected.

Good things: Lots more locals stopping into the shop. Buying components, coming by for repairs, having me fix up (or help them fix up) old frames. There is a solid contingent of people in downtown Wilmington who ride their bikes everyday and use them as primary transportation, which is very exciting. I still don't have complete bikes, but right now I don't have many people who come in looking for complete bikes. I do have my eye on a good bike for basic transportation (internal 3 speed hub, stock rack and fenders) that would sell for $320--a Model T bicycle if you will. I'll get a few of those as soon as I can. Gross revenues are up . . .

Bad things: . . . revenue up but not enough profit. This is probably my fault. When sales are good I order more product to build up the inventory. This is good as long as the business still makes money, bad if we have more inventory but aren't clearing enough to stay in business. Also, increases in local business bite into the time that I can devote to building up the mail-order/internet side of the business, which is frankly much more lucrative.

My out of town customers are a dream to deal with. They're smart, polite, and understand that you get what you pay for and are willing to pay for quality and knowledgeable service. (If you're the grammar police beware I endorse the serial comma and will continue to use it.) I often think that my unusual business would have a better chance to survive and thrive if I primarily focused on the specialty customers. But at heart I'm a localist. I want to help the riders in my area. I want more bicycles on the streets of Wilmington, I want to help people who use their bicycles as transportation in my neighborhood and city, and I can't see being in business and not making myself available to the locals.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cardiff Saddles

I'll be receiving a shipment of Cardiff Gull saddles late next week in both brown and black. Those who prefer traditional leather saddles have little choice outside of Brooks, and Brooks prices continue to rise (they just went up again) so it's nice to see another manufacturer of leather saddles. The company producing the Cardiff saddles has been in the furniture business for some time and the saddles are a new venture. My concern with leather saddles is how much and often they'll sag, which directly corresponds to how long they'll last. My inside info on the Cardiffs in that after and initial break-in the saddle needs to be tensioned a little, after which they're fine. Tensioning on the Cardiff is done with a common tool, so no need to buy a special spanner.

The Gull model is roughly the same width and shape as the Brooks Swallow (153mm wide) so it isn't right for a bike with the handlebars and saddle even . But for bikes with a fair amount of drop the saddles will work well. There are plans to make a B17-ish saddle in the future, which would be wise. I'm thinking that the Gull will end up on a lot of fixed wheel bikes, whose younger riders often pine after a Swallow but can't afford the price tag.

These saddles have been tested and the reports I have sound promising. At $100 vs. $265 for a Swallow the appeal of the Gull is basic. Here's a picture.
I made a relatively small order and am holding off on placing a large order until I can test the saddles myself. I've been told by the distributor that Grant Petersen at Rivendell has been testing one for some time, so I'll try to get his input as soon as I can. I expect the stock of these to go fast. If all goes well and I'm confident in the quality I'll order as many as I can afford. I'll try to find out some more information about the company making the saddles and post an update when they arrive.

As mentioned, Cardiff Gull saddles will be $100.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Blogging-Lite Until the Website is Finished

Ever since I turned on the Feedburner option I'm able to easily check how many subscribers and views the blog has. It's awful flattering that anyone subscribes and knowing that I have subscribers puts some pressure on me to post content regularly, but I've been working a lot on the website and financing for the business (trying to move away from the shoestring model). I probably won't be doing much blogging until the website is finished.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Reelights Review

I've recently started carrying and using the Reelight 120 battery free lights and have had enough experience with them to offer a review.

I should preface all of the below by saying that my bar for lighting is very high. I've had the benefit of testing many, many lights and have had very good experiences while using powerful lights (no accidents, no near misses, no cars pulling out right in front of me). My track record with "adequate" lights is not as good.

The Reelight products are powered by magnets which attach to the spokes of the bicycle. The lights are attached to the axle or quick release skewer of the bicycle and are powered when the spoke mounted magnets pass by the light heads, which have a magnet of their own. The 120 series operates in flashing mode and stays flashing for up to two minutes after the bicycle is stopped.

These are not exceptionally bright lights. They are suitable for urban environments and other roads where traffic is not very fast. They are also good no-hassle backup lights.

Battery lights are a pain, and though they continually get more powerful, lighter, and smaller the battery that lasts forever won't soon be invented. For those of us who use a bicycle as a vehicle, the most logical solution is to have a lighting system that doesn't rely on batteries but is instead powered by the rider.

Generator powered lights outperform the Reelights by some margin, especially in the headlight department but are much more expensive. Even an inexpensive sidewall dynamo driven lighting system will cost more than twice as much as a Reelight set. An inexpensive dynohub system (front wheel with hub, headlight and tail-light will cost about five times as much as a Reelight set.

The lights aren't exceptional performers in the category of light output, but I'm very happy to have them for my city bike, which doesn't leave downtown except during the day and never hits big roads with fast traffic.

Impressive price, mediocre light output, and ready anytime you hop on the bike. Taken as whole I'd call the Reelight a good value as a backup system or primary lighting for bikes that don't mix it up in fast traffic.

Feedin' the family content: I sell Reelight 120's sets (front and rear light) for $55.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

How the Brain Works and Bicycle Visibility

Last week I read an interesting essay which made me think about visibility out on the road. Some excerpts for those who don't want to read the whole article (interesting article but long).
A new scientific understanding of perception has emerged in the past few decades, and it has overturned classical, centuries-long beliefs about how our brains work—though it has apparently not penetrated the medical world yet. The old understanding of perception is what neuroscientists call “the na├»ve view,” and it is the view that most people, in or out of medicine, still have. We’re inclined to think that people normally perceive things in the world directly . .

Our assumption had been that the sensory data we receive from our eyes, ears, nose, fingers, and so on contain all the information that we need for perception, and that perception must work something like a radio. It’s hard to conceive that a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert is in a radio wave. But it is. So you might think that it’s the same with the signals we receive—that if you hooked up someone’s nerves to a monitor you could watch what the person is experiencing as if it were a television show. . .

The images in our mind are extraordinarily rich. We can tell if something is liquid or solid, heavy or light, dead or alive. But the information we work from is poor—a distorted, two-dimensional transmission with entire spots missing. So the mind fills in most of the picture. You can get a sense of this from brain-anatomy studies. If visual sensations were primarily received rather than constructed by the brain, you’d expect that most of the fibres going to the brain’s primary visual cortex would come from the retina. Instead, scientists have found that only twenty per cent do; eighty per cent come downward from regions of the brain governing functions like memory. . .

The account of perception that’s starting to emerge is what we might call the “brain’s best guess” theory of perception: perception is the brain’s best guess about what is happening in the outside world. The mind integrates scattered, weak, rudimentary signals from a variety of sensory channels, information from past experiences, and hard-wired processes, and produces a sensory experience full of brain-provided color, sound, texture, and meaning. . .

All of this made me think what many of us have probably intuited--drivers literally don't see us because they don't expect us to be there. They've been conditioned to look for cars and only cars, so that's what they see. And it also suggests why they get ticked off when they see you later rather than sooner. Their own perception has been indicted found faulty. Every driver knows they shouldn't overlook somebody on the road, but people like to blame others rather than themselves, so "How did I not see that cyclist? I should pay more attention." becomes "That damn cyclist, what are they doing on the road!"

This new understanding of perception also goes a long way to explain the safety in numbers effect. Scientists who first studied serious injury among cyclists went into the research thinking that where more people biked, injuries would rise because cyclists would feel more secure and thus be less careful. They found the opposite was true, the more cyclists that were in a given area, the less likely they were to be injured.

It also suggests that for people who live in an area without a lot of cyclists on the road visibility should be thought as shocking the perceptions of drivers. Being visible to someone who is looking isn't enough, because the "brain's best guess" is that you aren't there. I'm not a big fan of bike specific clothing, but the hi-vis green and orange shirts that highway workers wear seem like a real good idea. I presently wear red or (regular) green when I ride anywhere outside of downtown where the traffic is going over 30mph, but I'd like to get some cotton hi-vis shirts.

Here are several pictures of the setup I run when I leave the cozy confines of my neighborhood (traffic downtown is pretty good since their are lots of cyclists and pedestrians).

The light on the left is a Planet Bike Superflash, which is very bright, familiar to a lot of people, and the only light I use I night downtown. The light on the right is a Dinotte Taillight (I sell both). The triangle is a reflective hi-vis green triangle with a hi-vis orange center. My family has dubbed the Dinotte the "shock and awe" light. It has a very arresting BAM-BAM-BAM-pause-BAM-BAM-BAM flashing pattern and you literally cannot look directly at it without intensely hurting your eyes. It is visible even in broad daylight. Cars pass at very noticeably slower speeds and greater distances with this light. I could be wrong, but I'm convinced that the car that hit me from behind in Dallas wouldn't have hit me had I had this ridiculously bright light (I was using two Planet Bike BRT-7's at night. Driver wasn't drunk, he just "spaced out." He was about as scared as I was and actually raced me to the hospital himself.)

"Daylight" shot--hi vis triangle doesn't show up as well in the photograph under florescent lights



Low-light Shot without rear illumination



Low-light Short with rear illumination



Shot from the front to give some perspective of just how much light the Dinotte puts out. There it still light coming into the shop from the front window (it was dusk outside) or the light would show even more contrast



Payin' the bills content: Planet Bike Superflash lights are $24. Dinotte Taillights are $170 for the AA version and $230 for the Lithium Ion. Both include batteries, charger, and seatpost mount adapters. (I can tell you how to mount it in other spots if the seatpost isn't a good location for you--mine is attached to a seatstay rack boss. Shipping is free the Dinotte lights and all small part orders over $150 (no wheels, rims, bikes, or frames). I'm not much for "If it saves you one trip for the hospital its worth it" pitches. My take is these expensive lights are worth it for the stress they save you while riding. They buy you more room out there, which makes riding a lot more pleasurable. They're American made and have a two-year warranty. I offer a thirty day trial period for these lights. If you're not satisfied, just return the light--no matter how much you've used it--within thirty days and you'll get a full refund. No one has ever taken me up on that one.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Great Day, Rough Day

The summer weather in Wilmington was nice yesterday, which means it was humid and only moderately hot. Silas and I rode to pick up some groceries about noon, and found a good route to a store we hadn't taken our bikes to before. Later in the day I rode to my sister-in-law's while the rest of the family followed in the car. It isn't a bicycle friendly route and about half of it is on a multi-lane road with 45ish mph traffic, but with what I have termed my "shock and awe" visibility set up (bright colored shirt, reflective hi-vis triangle, PlanetBike Superflash and Dinotte Taillight--both taillights, esp. the Dinotte are bright enough to be visible in the day) I felt comfortable and everyone gave me plenty of room. We all went to a park near my sister-in-law's and I rode some more before riding home. I was nice and tired by the end of the day, and the night air was cool on the return ride home.

Silas went to bed early than we expected and was a little feverish, which we first thought was due to another molar coming in, but in the middle of the night he woke up in obvious pain and vomited. Lucy examined him and found what looked like spider bite on his back near his left armpit. Because the center looked necrotic and there was a large infected aura around the bite we suspected it could have been a brown recluse bite and took him to the emergency room (it was 3am). The doctor there also thought it a spider bite. Only after doing some research at home did I find out the brown recluse bites are often misdiagnosed with the nastiest alternative being MRSA, which the doctor did mention in passing. I was frustrated with this, though the doctor and nurse were pleasant to deal with, the possibility of MRSA wasn't made very explicit. In retrospect the immediate antibiotic injection administered and the strength and type of the antibiotic prescribed indicate the doctor was covering the bases if the culprit was MRSA. I understand the doctor may have not wanted to freak us out, and that ER staff have to deal with a lot of dense people, but I'd rather have the straight dope and get as much information as possible from the staff. The antibiotics have helped, but Silas is still feverish and the necrotic wound will get worse in the next two or three days before it gets better. Not fun stuff for anybody involved.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Low Trail 650B Conversion Forks Have Arrived

I received a shipment of these today from Kogswell. The forks have a 1" unthreaded steerer, which can be threaded upon request. The intention is for these forks to be used on road bike conversions to allow 1) low-trail steering geometry 2) wider tires and fenders than stock forks on conversions would likely allow and 3) good fender and rack mounts. The finish is raw. Fork rake is 64mm, which--assuming a 650B-ish wheel diameter of 660mm, yields the following trail measurements.

40mm with a 72 degree headtube angle
37mm with a 72.5 degree headtube angle
34mm with a 73 degree headtube angle
31mm with a 73.5 degree headtube angle
28mm with a 74 degree headtube angle

If you've converted an old road bike to fatter 650B tires but still have high trail steering geometry you're only getting half the joie. With fat tires, a front load, and a low-trail front end you can see what all the Frenchy fuss is about.

For those unfamiliar with the P/R forks, I've included some pictures below. They have double eyelets on the dropouts, mid-fork braze ons for low rider racks, and threaded fender mount underneath the fork crown (very handy), and braze ons on the top of the fork crown for rack Kogswell is developing specifically for the fork. The fork crown affords room for a 50mm fender. I've put both Gran Bois Hetres and Panaracer Fatty Rumpkins under a 50mm fender of this fork. Both fit, the Rumpkin was a little tighter than the Hetre.

Forks are $65. Shipping is $10 to the continental United States. I can have the forks threaded for $40, but I need to know the exact length of the headtube (plus any spacers you plan on using) for the bike the fork is destined for. I also can ship the fork directly to a good powdercoater or painter if you don't have one in your area.

Keep in mind 1" threadless headsets and stems are readily available, so don't dismiss the idea of changing your setup to threadless. The steerer tube on these forks is huge (400mm), so you won't have any problem putting your handlebars wherever you'd like should you decide to go threadless.

For those that can't wait for the Kogswell front racks I haven Nitto M-12's for $60.





Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Frank ist Fat, and We Like Him That Way

I was mistaken when I deemed my child carrying bike perfected. The Bobike Mini is indeed the best child seat you'll find for sub 33 lb children, but I squeezed in some Schwalbe Fat Frank tires the other day and well . . . I'll just have to gush below.

In "Historic" downtown Wilmington half the steets are brick and the other half are terrible. Okay, I exaggerate. About a third of the streets are brick. Seven twelfths are terrible, one twelfth is smooth. Does that add up to one? Downtown Wilmington is built along the Cape Fear River. Water, Front, 2nd, 3rd, etc. run parallel to the river. Water is mostly brick. The streets which run perpendicular to the river are mostly brick. 3rd street is smooth. 2nd is smooth for six block. Everything else isn't brick but is very bumpy.

I'm not complaining. My gut feeling is that really bad roads act as traffic calming devices.

Back to the tires. In rough terrain these excel, but even on the smooth streets of mid-town the tires are fast and unbelievably comfortable.

The tires float over brick and cobblestone. Improvised unpaved lines become as smooth as chipseal. They aren't just huge tires. They are very nice huge tires. Thin, supple sidewalls. Just enough tread.

Me and my son equal a 200 lb rider. I've been using 25 psi in the back and 20 in the front. The bike rides like a dream. You have to try them to understand. I have e-mailed Schwalbe begging for a 650B or 650A version. It won't happen. Like the Gran Bois Hetre and Cypres, these are tires worth of designing an entire bike around. In fact, Frank Patitz, the tires' namesake, did just that.

Schwalbe Fat Frank tires are (unfortunately) only available in 26" (559-60 ISO) diameter. They are available in black and cream. $40 each. The Big Apple, which is similar to the Fat Frank, is available in a wider variety of sizes. Black only. $40 for 26" and 700C versions, less for smaller wheel diameters.

Three Speed Internal Hub Gearing: A Proposal

When I built the child haulin' bike below I used a three speed internal hub because of a couple of circumstances. 1) It was affordable, 2) came with a coaster brake, and 3) (related to #2) I didn't have the time to repair my MB-1 frame to use a cantilever or v-brake (one of the rear canti-posts needed to be reattached after a car collision). Since I had the chance to choose my own gearing I put some thought into it. Stock three speed IG setups seem me to have a decently low first gear, but have a third gear that is too high, and a second gear that seems too low. The "correct" cruising gear seems to hover between second and third, but you can't get to it. Correct cruising gear may be a matter of opinion, but I submit it isn't too far away from the low to mid 70 gear inches (5.6ish gain ratio if you use that method) that works for fixed gear or road singlespeed bikes. That gearing will get you moving at 20mph with 90rpm pedal cadence. In my book that's plenty fast, so I worked on the assumption that the I'd set my highest gear at this level. Using Sheldon's Invaluable Internal Gear Calculator, I found that with my tire size I could achieve this gearing with a 46x22 setup.

One coincidence of this experiment is that I'm now smitten with the Nexus 3-speed hub. It works very well, and I prefer it to its SRAM counterpart--easier setup, easier shifter action, better shifting. If that weren't enough, Nexus cogs are readily available in 16-22 tooth. This was important for me because I was installing a IG hub on a bike with nearly vertical dropouts. The wide range of cogs available allowed me to calculate (again with some internet assistance) the chainring/cog combo that would give me the gearing I wanted and get the needed chain tension without horizontal dropouts.

Back to gearing. I'm now adamant that this is the way to gear a three speed hub--especially on a city bike that doesn't exactly excel in the out of the saddle pedaling department. You don't need a larger gear, if you're going downhill you simply coast. Second gear is used for starting up on flat terrain, first gear is for going uphill or starting on an incline. Second is also used for cruising on slight inclines into strong headwinds. Third is your ideal cruising gear. 20mph is plenty fast for most riding. You can spin faster if you'd like, but you rarely need to. The lower first and second gear were essential for this bike, because with Silas in the Bobike Mini getting out of the saddle is very dodgy. But even without the child seat (I use take the seat off and use the same bike for all my errands around town) the gearing works very well. Low gear is 40 inches for the curious.

If you're thinking about building up a bike with an internal hub, try it out.

Commercial content--Nexus Inter-3 hubs with shifter are $80 (36H only). Complete wheels built by me start at $162 and include the shifter. 19T cogs are standard and included in the price. Nexus cogs 16-22T are available for $10.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Child Carryin' Bike Perfected

Please note that the new blog and webstore are now at longleafbicycles.com. I consistently get questions about the Bobike seats generated by the two posts about them here. You can purchase Bobike seats and small parts at the new webstore.

As I noted in a post many moons ago, I was pleased with the Bobike Maxi/Xtracycle combination I built to ride with my son. But the girth of the bike hurt the grab-it-and-go-ness of the machine, which was the whole reason I ditched trailers and decided to build a dedicated two-seater.

If you're looking to grab a week's worth of groceries and take the kid along, the Xtracycle with child seat is the best thing going. And even if you don't have children, the cargo capacity, handling, and value of the Xtracycle is impressive. I served as a mobile mechanic for a group ride a couple of weeks ago, and the Xtracycle hauled all my tools and one not-very-portable workstand with ease.

But the majority of trips don't require that kind of cargo capacity, and I wanted something a little less cumbersome. I started looking around at front mounted child seats and wanted to test the Bobike Mini, which mounts to an adapter on a quill stem (there is an aftermarket adapter for 1 1/8" threadless steerers) and holds children up to 33 pounds.

After a quick check with the wife (she's the child development expert) "How long 'till Silas is over 33 pounds?" "A year at least." I started cobbling together another bike from spare parts.

Because of the position of the Mini I selected high, swept back bars and a wide, sprung saddle. Though I have not tried it out, I suspect a European style city bike with a very slack seattube angle and high stem would be ideal to minimize interference with the knees of the "driver" and the seat.
When I originally set up the bike as pictured I had to bow my legs slightly to keep my knees from smacking the seat. Besides using a bike with very different geometry as mentioned above I thought of a couple of solutions.

One would be a frame with a longer toptube--with the swept back bars a rider can use a frame with a longer than usual toptube.

Two is a higher stem, which I tried first because it was much less expensive. I ordered this beast and stuck it on the bike. Thankfully, this eliminated the knee strike on the seat.

There are many things I like about the seat. It mounts easily--the seat has a fork which slides into and adapter on the stem of the bike and is secured by a clip, it is extremely easy to take off the bike or transfer from bike to bike. Once the adapter clamp is on the bike installing the seat is a seven second job (I timed it--this includes picking up the seat) and removing the seat takes five seconds (includes putting the seat down). By buying an extra adapter the seat can easily be switched back and forth between bikes.

Common sense would say that most children will appreciate riding shotgun more than a seat in the rear. Our experience confirms this. Silas loved his old seat in the rear. But he's ecstatic about this one. The first few blocks of the ride are often accompanied by squealing delight. I enjoy it more as well. Silas is closer to me, I can see when he points at things, I can talk to him, adjust his helmet, hug him, etc. His weight is still between the wheels and the bike handles very well.

Since the picture we've added a rear rack and basket for running errands. I highly recommend the Bobike Mini. Do keep in mind the knee strike issue if you plan to get one. You'll need a longer than normal top-tube or a very high stem relative to your saddle height to eliminate this problem. If this required getting of building another bike, do it. You won't be sorry. I've gone through several options for carrying my son around, and the Mini is by far the best. Enjoyable for driver and passenger, fun, and easy to use.

The Bobike Mini is $134.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Frame Update

Some of this will be redundant from a post a few months ago, but a couple of people e-mailed me for a frame update.

I talked to David Cheakas last night. He has the first frame ready for paint. He has the tires that the bike is being built for but needs the fenders from me to make sure everything fits just right. The first frame was going to be 650B and made to fit some Trimlines I have. But when I showed up in Wilmington the roads were so bad I decided the first 650B bike would be made to fit the Hetres. This meant another fork crown would have to be used from the ones I'd already supplied David. So I told David to do a 700C frame first, which can use the Sachs fork crown. I'm leaning toward the Pacenti Bi-Plane crown for bikes using tires as wide as the Hetre (42mm). There aren't a lot of options for tires that wide. Well, there aren't a lot of un-ugly options. The fenders for that tire are 56mm, just a little too big for the Sachs or Long Shen (which is what Kogswell uses on the P/R).

Graphics are the other holdup. I have the artwork but have to have paint masks and/or decals made. I'm undecided about headbadges. Eventually, I'll have some made for people who love them and have to have 'em. I like them, and I love a good one, but I can do with a headtube decal. My graphic art guy gave me the headbadge/decal/logo and downtube graphics in several colors, so the nice thing about using a decal or paint mask for the headtube would be that the graphic color which best compliments the frame color could be used. In any case the frames will be fairly austere with one color paint, headtube logo and downtube logo. Just a simple "Longleaf" on the downtube, or nothing at all upon request.

Here's one headtube and downtube set.


Downtube


If you're interested you can look at others here. The downtube logos won't always use both colors depicted in the pictures. The shape will be as pictured, but sometimes there won't be any fill color except the paint on the bike, and in other cases the font will be solid instead of two color.

All of that is cosmetic, which isn't to say it is unimportant, but it matters little if the frames aren't well designed and well made. There are other frames that fit this bill, but they are either in very short supply or they aren't sold through dealers, which is why I decided to get my own made. In a nutshell they'll be good versatile frames that fit larger than usual tires and have steering geometry that accounts for larger tires and cargo, as well as integrating fenders, lights, and racks into the design of each bike.

Frames will be made to measure for each rider with internal wiring provisions for dynamo users standard (whether the fork will use brazed on loops or an internal guide is still up in the air--I'm leaning toward brazed on loops). Specific fenders and tires will be integrated into the design, so that even if you don't plan on using any fenders at first you can later add them and they'll fit perfectly. I won't take orders until the samples are finished, I've put some miles on one, and I'm confident all the wrinkles have been ironed out. I think mid to end of August is realistic.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Subscribe! (If, you know, you want to)

I figured out how to insert a button so visitors can subscribe to this blog if they so desire. It's over there to the right.

Long Time No See--Progress Report and History

After a few comments that I haven't updated the blog or website in some time I decided I need to drop a line. I don't want to sound like it's a hassle or bother. I'd prefer to write than do a most of what has been taking up my time lately.
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A seventy four year old cyclist stopped in the other day. He said he was too old to cycle anymore. He looked and seemed fit--in more bike friendly conditions he'd likely still be cycling, which is a shame. He had some parts he wanted to sell, which I didn't need, and I good tool (steerer tube threader with die and handle for 1") for a great price, which I bought. He also had all the Rivendell Readers ever printed, which he lent me to browse. I thumbed through the first two yesterday. I don't know if any of you have read these, but there's a section in each one that would these days be a blog. In the section Grant Petersen has entries like "Aug 12--Only two orders today. Aug. 18--Only X amount of money left in the bank and half of that is owed to people--Aug. 25 A good friend called and said he hopes Rivendell succeeds, but doesn't think it will. Aug. 31--I think I need to see if the original investors will go in for about $15,000 more." etc. etc. It isn't all doom and gloom, but there is a good bit of writing about the worry that goes on with starting most businesses, I imagine, and especially a business for which there isn't a well established model. It was frank and honest without being self-pitying. I found it interesting and encouraging.
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In any case, that feature in the Reader and comments from a few customers lately reminded me how nice it is to have a business that quite a few people seem to be rooting for. Most of these people are spread throughout the country, so they don't know much of what is going on unless they call or e-mail me.
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Some weeks I get swamped in the local side of the business. I never wanted to start a bike business that was primarily mail or internet order, because I enjoy the face to face with customer (most times) and I think that actually wrenching on bikes keeps me honest in a way that punching keys and putting things in boxes to give to the UPS man can't. So my model has been a local bike shop which could be for everybody but because of image and perception probably won't be, as well as wheelbuilding, parts, and (one day) bikes for people around the country who want something a little special.

Right now I'm pretty swamped with work that eats up a lot of hours to make sure I pay the month to month bills. I'm still working on carving out time to do the things that will help pay the bills in the future and build the business (website work, getting the made to measure frames off the ground, bringing in new products) so that I don't have to work 70 hours a week to make sure the family and business scrape by.

I started the business out of love and frustration. Love of the bike as a vehicle and more. Love of how it fosters affection and closeness to people and places that can't be cultivated at 45mph. Once I started using my bike to get around Dallas and starting working with bikes I pretty quickly knew that I wanted to make it a career and start my own business. That's the love part. The frustration part was working at the local Trekalized dealer and seeing customers get the wrong bikes, wrong parts, and incorrect technical information over and over again.

I was building wheels on the side for extra money and was getting a decent stream of orders (all out of town to avoid conflicts of interest). Just enough to make it hard to fulfill my wheelbuilding orders and go to my day job. I didn't have anywhere close to the amount of money recommend to start the business. Perhaps 12% of what was recommended. My background in finance was non-existent, but I knew there was a market for classic, high-quality, practical bikes and parts and I thought I was pretty decent with customers. It might have been a blessing that I acted in ignorance, otherwise I might not have started up at all. But being underfunded has made it tougher. So one of my big projects for the next few months is to put together a more formal business plan and round up the money to expand my inventory and get some projects off the ground. And build the website, of course.

The truth is that in August 2006 I wasn't comfortable borrowing (not would anyone have lended me) the recommended start up money (this usually includes at least twelve months of operating expenses). The year and half since then (I'm subtracting a couple months for the move) have been an excellent business education and I'm much more comfortable with what I'm doing now. The other upshot is that since I've built up enough business to (barely) cover my operating expenses and (sorta) pay myself I don't need to borrow as nearly as much.
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I promise to update more often in the future so that those who care will have some idea about what is going on. It's also a good break from building wheels and assembly work. Next installment--the European style city bike, why it is neglected in the US, and how your particular city/town affects what will be the optimal "commuting" bike for you. Not in that order. I'll also have a frame update soon and have carved out some time to work on the website, which will soon have products, prices, and pictures. No online ordering planned yet. Maybe never. We'll see. It's nice to at least talk to someone on the phone.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

New Location Redux

Unforseen circumstances caused us to move shop before we ever really opened. Evidently I didn't check with enough municipal officials, and though the city was fine with the location the county was at the minimum going to require the addition of a handicapped ramp and a wider door for accessibility. So we moved shop from the southeast corner of Brunswick and Fourth to the northwest corner of the same intersection. Perhaps the shortest move in history--318 ft. from door to door. Curiously, this required a change of our phone and fax number.

805 B North Fourth St.
Wilmington, NC 28401
910.341.3049 phone
910.341.3059 fax

We are now directly on the downtown Wilmington Free Trolley line, in the old bakery building which now consists of the Modern Bakery Condominiums as well as a few businesses which are in the attached, original structure pictured to the right in the link. The window and door to the right below are ours:

I've been setting up everything in the last week and even though we're not yet officially open a few people who have heard about the shop have stopped by, which is heartening. It was nice to work on customers' bikes for a change instead of doing paper/computer/phone work. I'm in the shop just about every day, and will open soon.

Thank you very much to everyone who has ordered wheels and other parts while we've been moving. It has been a great help to the business and blush-inducing to have dedicated customers from around the country who have placed orders during this liminal period.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Kona's AfricaBike

I'm not always very hooked into goings on in the bicycle industry, and though I vaguely remember news of this bike, I didn't take much notice until someone on the KOG list pointed it out today. For those who don't know the backstory, Kona developed an economical utilitarian bicycle for the delivery of medicine by African workers to those they serve. Partners and donors sponsor the bikes, they're shipped overseas and put to use. Very good idea.

Kona recently started selling the bicycles to the public. I haven't tried one, but the same design the makes it a useful delivery vehicle on African roads would likely make it a good vehicle for transport in urban areas. Fenders, basket, rack, chainguard--everything's there. For different reasons Americans need these bikes as well. There are different types of poverty, and the poverty created by mechanical Jacobinism is real and profound. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying our rootlessness and lack of community is the same thing as not having access to necessary medicine and health care. Only that there are different types of poverty but all produce suffering. Of course the Africans' have the benefit of welcoming relief, while we largely remain smitten with our disorder.

Three cheers for the AfricaBike . I will be calling Kona on Monday to see about getting some of these for the shop. I believe the more that are sold stateside the more get shipped overseas. Win-win.

AfricaBike 3.0 (3-speed w/ coasterbrake)
AfricaBike 2.0 (singlespeed w/ coasterbrake)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Sheldon Brown 1944-2008

I never met Sheldon, though we exchanged e-mails a few times. I doubt there's anyone reading this page who wasn't acquainted with him in some manner. I spent a lot of time on his web pages when I first started riding a bicycle as an adult. I started riding late, and when I knew I wanted to work with bikes I spent even more time on his site catching up. At the time I was working as a mechanic at the local Trekalized dealer and every once in awhile I'd have a question that I couldn't find a satisfactory answer to anywhere else. I'd e-mail Sheldon and he'd answer it. I can't imagine the volume of e-mail he must have received. I wasn't special. I was just some curious junior mechanic. But he always took his time and answered the question well. He didn't have to do that. He didn't have to do the same for hundreds--if not thousands of others. But he did.
A beautiful and good life is primarily a life of gratuity.
--Ivan Illich

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Dedicated Car Lanes

Tip of the hat to The Copenhagen Bicycle Culture Blog.

"We are not militants. We believe that the car has its place in society and does not necessarily need to disappear. More people on bikes is the way forward, sure, but we are more than willing to share the streets with cars. The streets are for everyone, after all."

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tired of Looking at Beautiful Bicycles? Behold the 650B Franken-Xtracycle

Please note that the new blog and webstore are now at longleafbicycles.com. I consistently get questions about the Bobike seats generated by the two posts about them here. You can purchase Bobike seats and small parts at the new webstore.

I've updated this post since I finally got a shot of my wife using the bike and wanted to show how the two handlebars setup allows us both to ride the bike by simply adjusting the seat (not that it takes much imagination to figure it out, but people always like pictures.)


(The other handlebars don't hit my knees, in case you're wondering--it the most common question.)

This bike was made to carry my child and became 650B because of the fork choice. It went Franken because I wanted both my wife and I, who differ in height by a little more than half a foot, to be able to use it.

Once my son was old enough to sit on his own I went through a couple of biking-with-child options. Option one was slapping a helmet on him, putting him in a mei tei on my back and hopping on my bike. He was very secure, the bike riding position allowed him to look forward over my shoulder and also took a lot of pressure from the baby carrier off my shoulders. However, though this method of riding your bike with baby-in-backpacky thing flies in Amsterdam my wife stated without ambiguity that I could continue said practice when and if we moved there. The "But he has on a helmet!" appeal feel on deaf ears. Even short excursions using option one were prohibited. In honesty I was a little anxious about the safety of the arrangement and would only take Silas on errands that didn't leave our neighborhood using this method.

Option two was a Burley child trailer. I never liked it. Silas didn't like it nearly as much as riding on my back. Attaching and unattaching the trailer to the bike put a cramp on our bicycle lifestyle (I'm just borrowing that from Peter). Parking bike and trailer were like backing up a truck with boat trailer into a driveway. Silas was encapsulated in a pod a good five feet behind me, which seemed against the whole spirit of riding a bike. And he let it be known that he wasn't happy about it.

Enter the Bobike Maxi combined with an Xtracycle conversion.

You tell me if that boy is happy. This idea didn't occur to me at first because I don't like how a heavy load feels over my rear wheel. A heavy load over the rear wheel makes bike handling dodgy at best. And as you can see Silas doesn't skip meals. Patrick Barber first suggested this solution to me. By using a rear child seat in conjunction with an Xtracycle, the child's weight is placed between the wheels. The hunch was that this would ameliorate the handling problems associated with rear child seats. So I ordered the Xtracycle and a Bobike rear child seat.

That's the Xtracycle part. The Franken and 650B part came later and were both caused by the desire for both me (6'0") and my wife (5' 51/2"--don't short her that last half inch unless you're ready to face 115lbs of fury) to be able to use the same child carrying bike. My idea was that by using just the right size frame, one very long stem, one very short stem, one set of drop bars and one set of albatross bars, I could replicate our contact points. All that would need to be done to switch between riders is raising or lowering the seat.

I don't know how many of you have seen an uncut Kogswell P/R fork, but it's looong. Matthew specs the longest steerer tube possible for maximum versatility. I figured that a P/R fork would allow me to use a frame small enough for Lucy to comfortably mount and still allow my handlebars to be even with the saddle.

The two sets of brake levers are coupled by these nifty 2:1 cable couplers from Problem Solvers.

Laughing at myself while doing so, I reduced the tread of the Ritchey Logic triple by using a much narrower than recommended bottom bracket spindle and got it down to 147mm. The non-drive side chainstay didn't want to cooperate, but a couple of smacks with a 3 pound hammer persuaded it otherwise and bought me just enough clearance between the chainstay and crankarm to make it work.


The Xtracycle attachment comes in 26" and 700C versions, which are identical except for the location of the brake posts. I used the 26" model with a v-brake (Shimano Alivio) on the rear and moved the pads to the top of the slot. They hit the 650B rim just fine. The v-brake works very well with the road levers and travel agent.

I'm very happy with the experiment. Does it handle like a longtail cargobike? Sure. But it doesn't handle poorly at all. Most importantly, the handling doesn't change very muchl with Silas's 25 pounds in the child seat. It feels flexy when out of saddle with or without child aboard, but out of the saddle performance shouldn't matter with this type of bike.

Most importantly we have a convenient, practical way to continue using a bicycle for errands and transportation. We have a dedicated bike for the child that doesn't require any fuss or accessory attachment. Getting him in and out of the seat is easy and the well placed kickstand on the Xtracycle makes the bike very stable when loading or unloading. The cargo capacity of the Xtracycle wasn't the point of the project, but it has been a nice added bonus. It makes errands which might be problematic on other bikes a cinch, like this trip to put out garage sale signs.

My only complaints are with some unforseen consequences of the small frame size. It forced me to mount the Bobike seat very close to my seat, and I had to cut down the footrests on the Bobike to keep my heels from striking them. A larger frame and/or mixte frame with seatstays that attached to a higher point on the seattube would allow the seat to be attached in a better position. Moving the seat back a couple of centimeters would solve the heelstrike problem and also make for a better view from the child's seat. I often find Silas leaning his head out to look around me. I'm not positive this is because his view is obstructed, but suspect that moving his seat back would result in a better view and more contentment.

Overall I'm happy enough with the Bobike and Xtracycle combo that I'd like to save up for a Surly Big Dummy to see if it improves the current setup. An unintended consequence is that although I hadn't previously thought much of the Xtracycles I'm impressed with its ability to make easy work of errands that can't be accomplished on the vast majority of bicycles.

Even babies know Brooks are sweet.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Wilmington Alley Cat

The first (as far as anyone there knew) Wilmington Alley Cat race was held last Sunday. It was very well organized with a fairly short course that didn't scare anyone away. Some people had no intention of racing and rode leisurely; some were a little more competitive. Everybody enjoyed meeting up with other cyclists. There seems to be a descent-sized group of people in the downtown area who get around on their bikes and a fledgling bike culture is developing. It was refreshing. It felt good to ride hard enough to get myself winded after being on the bike very little during the last two months of moving. The race was won on a climb the organizers manufactured in flat Wilmington by placing a checkpoint at the top of a seven story parking garage. No one was able to pass on the way back down and with the finish line nearby the order of arrival at the top of the climb was maintained till the end.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Almost Settled

Moving across country is never easy. Moving a family and a business complicates things further. We decided to make it even harder by vacillating on our destination mid-move. My wife moved ahead of me in order to try to find a spot for the business and was absolutely horrified by Wilmington. The area where her family lives is an absolute nightmare for anyone who prefers to walk or bike as transportation. Miles and miles of five lane (center turn lane) roads with no shoulders, 45-55mph traffic, and commercial buildings separated from the road by massive parking lots--the too-typical development layout of post-war America. We considered/decided on Asheville for a while, and I even rented a place there on a month-to-month basis. We came to Wilmington for Christmas where the pull of family convinced us to should find a way to make it work here so that my wife would have family support raising our son and any future children.

After about a week of searching and some despair at ever finding anywhere pedestrian and bike friendly in Wilmington, I found the NorthSide downtown. The development pattern downtown is also one that has been played out in many American cities in the last half century--middle and upper class flight from urban areas because of crime fears and public schooling woes, re-filling of the urban areas by the "creative-class" taking advantage of the low prices white-flight caused in the urban centers, gentrification leading to the repopulation and rising dense urban areas by professionals, dink-ers, and some families as the hollowness of suburban life became more pronounced, rising prices as urban centers once again became desirable. Much of downtown Wilmington is already too far on the end of that scale to be affordable for most--including us. The neighborhood north of Market downtown, called NorthSide, was considered a bad neighborhood just a few years ago. Some ambitious development along the Fourth Street corridor and--crucially--the destruction of some particularly nasty public housing projects has re-invigorated the area. The central business district zoning of the area allows for a maximum of flexibility and a dense mixture of residential and commercial spaces.

We found a house built in 1902 that has undergone an excellent restoration. We've waded through several layers of bureaucracy to make sure that we can live and work on the same property, put up signs for the business, etc. It is ridiculous that this is only allowed in exceptional circumstances most places. It took four trips to the city planning department and I'm now being told I have to go through the same process plus have the property inspected by the equivalent county department. Land of the Free, right? Hopefully we'll be moving in Thursday. I've long wanted to live and work on the same property. Living and working in close proximity was the human standard from the time of the agricultural revolution until the mid-19th century. Now this arrangement is so atypical that it is almost considered perverse, and there are many obstacles in the path of those who'd like to combine work and home.

The business and home will be well-situated, I believe. We couldn't really hope for better in Wilmington. Luckily, downtown is a place apart from the rest of the city and county. There are many services withing walking distance. Being downtown means that traffic is slower and bike-friendly. The only gap is a good grocery store, which I haven't yet found nearby. We'll be on Brunswick at Fourth, and there's a faux-trolley (no tracks, just a bus made to look like a trolley) that goes through downtown and runs down Fourth every ten to fifteen minutes. That's nice--even better is that the trolley is free to ride. The area is covered by free wi-fi because of a joint public/private venture to aid the neighborhood's renaissance. We're only a few blocks from the Cape Fear riverfront and boardwalk.

As long as the county doesn't throw us a major curveball, this will be our new location and we'll be pretty much back to normal operation in about two weeks.